Tag Archives: nursing

They came from near and far to do their patriotic duty – staffing the University War Hospital

Staff at the University War Hospital [MS 1/Phot/39 ph3104]

Staff at the University War Hospital, 1918 [MS1/Phot/39 ph3104]

11 November 2018 marks the centenary of the end of the First World War. To commemorate this, we take a look at the contribution of the staff of the University War Hospital at the Highfield campus site.

Under the command of Dr Lauder, who had been the Medical Officer for Health for Southampton, the Hospital was staffed by professional nurses and members of the Volunteer Aid Detachments (known as VADs). As well as nursing, VADs also worked in a range of auxiliary capacities from driving ambulances bringing the wounded to the Hospital, to laboratory assistants, clerks, cooks, housemaids and laundresses.

With the start of the war, Southampton hospitals recruited every nurse, VAD and others who could be spared from auxiliary hospitals in the surrounding counties. But as the war progressed, the need for further staff increased.  Gwynnedd Lloyd, a friend of the daughters of Dr Lauder, was considered too young as a 17 year-old to volunteer in 1914. However, in the aftermath of the battle of the Somme, she was invited to join the VADs and to work at the University War Hospital.

The VADs lacked the training and skill of the professional nurses and tended to perform duties that were less technical. As a new VAD, Gwynnedd Lloyd noted that her duties consisted of “making beds and waiting on sister” as well as taking trolleys around and twice a day collecting rubbish. But as time went on, with the flow of the wounded into the hospitals and the demands it placed on the staff, the line between the professional and the volunteer became far less distinct, leading to recognition that the VAD and nurse differed little beyond the level of training. Gwynnedd Lloyd was assigned to assist with one of the hutted wards at the Hospital and even as a relatively untrained VAD was expected to cover shifts of around 10 hours.

Hutted ward decorated for Christmas, c.1915 [MS1/Phot/39 ph 3108]

Hutted ward decorated for Christmas, c.1915 [MS1/Phot/39 ph 3108]

The women who volunteered as VADs saw their work as a patriotic duty and a useful contribution to the war effort. Whilst some were local to Southampton, others who served as nursing staff at the University War Hospital came from all across the UK, the Channel Islands, Ireland and Canada. It is estimated that somewhere in the region of 4,500 Irish women served as VADs during the war effort, and amongst the staff of the University War Hospital were women from a number of Irish counties including Counties Kilkenny, Limerick, Longford and Tyrone. Canadian VADs were initially only employed in their homeland working in convalescent hospitals. However, as the war dragged on, it became apparent that they were needed overseas and the staff at the Hospital in 1918 included a number of nurses from New Brunswick in Canada.

Amongst the ranks of the VADs were not only nurses, but a myriad of auxiliary roles such as orderlies, stretcher bearers, clerks, cooks, housemaids and laundresses. Most of the women who served in these roles tended to be from the local area. Fanny Street and her two friends, Jennie Ford and Ethel Taylor, who feature in current Special Collections exhibition My War, My Story, were from Southampton. All three worked in the laundry of the University War Hospital for the whole duration, with Fanny Street becoming the Head Laundress by 1917.

Fanny Street (centre) with her fellow VADs Jennie Ford and Ethel Taylor

Fanny Street (centre) with her fellow VADs Jennie Ford and Ethel Taylor [MS416/13]

And we find that members of the same family all worked together at the hospital. Three members of the Trodd family from Southampton and members of the Bailey family from Eastleigh worked as maids and cooks. Annie and Hettie Needham from St. Denys were both employed as clerks. And Barbara and Gertrude Long, who lived in Freemantle, worked as a clerk and a laboratory assistant respectively. The Archives holds a notebook and three scientific reports kept by Gertrude Long during her time at the Hospital (MS101/8).

Notebook of lab assistant Gertrude Long [MS101/8]

Notebook of lab assistant Gertrude Long [MS101/8]

And so, as we come to the centenary of the end of the First World War, we remember all those who made a contribution, not least the young women who, in some cases, crossed an ocean to help staff the War Hospital here at the University.

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Florence Nightingale, nursing and the Crimean War

In 1825 Henry Holmes, agent for the third Viscount Palmerston reported to his master:

Embley has been sold to a Mr. Nightingale from Derbyshire. He is related by marriage to Mr. Carter the MP for Portsmouth and married to a daughter of William Smith, MP for Norwich.

Embley Park in East Wellow, near Romsey, was a stone’s throw from Palmerston’s Broadlands estate. William and Frances Nightingale moved in with their two young daughters, Parthenope, and Florence who would have been 5 at the time of the purchase.

Watercolour of the entrance into the Walis Orchard from the gate of the Forest Lodge, Embley [Cope Collection cq 91.5 EMB]

William was an enlightened man.  He stood as a Whig candidate for Andover, supported the Reform Bill and moved in the same circles as his neighbour, Palmerston.  In 1830 he wrote asking to see his speech on the “Catholic question” [i.e. Emancipation]. [BR113/12/5].  William seconded Palmerston’s candidacy for his Romsey seat in 1830 and they hunt and shot together. 

William chose to tutor his daughter Florence at home, something which was unusual for the period.  Florence felt her vocation in life to be nursing but her family, particularly her mother, were unsupportive.  However, in 1853 she became superintendent to the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances in London.  Her father had granted her a generous allowance of £500 a year to enable her to take up this position and she impressed everyone with her skills as a nurse and organiser.

Sketch of “Miss Florence Nightingale, the Soldier’s Friend” drawn by Elston, and published by Ellis,1856 [Cope Collection cq 95 NIG]

The Crimean War broke out in March 1854.  The public were appalled by the reports of inadequate nursing of wounded soldiers and the secretary of state at war, Sidney Herbert, was held accountable.  Florence Nightingale was close friends with Sidney and his wife, (Mary) Elizabeth since a meeting a few years previously and thus, on 21 October 1854, she was sent out to the Crimea, with a staff of 38 nurses.  It was during this period that Florence Nightingale began her pioneering work in modern nursing.

After her return from the Crimea, Florence focused on her sanitary and statistical work.  We have three letters she sent to her Hampshire neighbour Palmerston while he was Prime Minister. In May 1862 she writes concerning a reorganisation of the War Office a started by her late friend Sidney Herbert:

This plan ensured direct responsibility in the hands of all departments instead of shifting unstable responsibility hitherto the curse of W.O. administration.

[MS 62 Broadlands Archives GC/NI/5]

The following year she contacts Palmerston again, having been “thinking all night on this matter” [Herbert’s sanitary reforms] in which she is “deeply interested.” [MS 62 Broadlands Archives GC/NI/7]. 

The Crimean War had highlighted the need for an additional hospital.  A site at Netley, on the Southampton Water, was chosen for ease of landing invalids direct from the transport ships.  The plans for the hospital had been made and building started before Nightingale returned from the Crimea.  She wrote a report regarding what she considered to be fundamental flaws in its construction, lighting and ventilation, suggesting alternatives, but Lord Panmure, the [Secretary of state for War / Secretary at War], was unresponsive.  She therefore went over his head to the Prime Minister, her Lord Palmerston but the hospital was built following the original plans.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley. Taken from The Leisure Hour, April 1833 [Cope Collection c NET 45]

Another influential friend of Nightingale’s was Inspector-General Maclean, a Professor of Military Medicine at the Netley Military Hospital.  Here we find a link with the University as Maclean gave the Hartley Institution – a forerunner to the University –  help and counsel in the later nineteenth century.

The University has a long affinity with the health sciences.  In 1894, the Institution was recognised by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons as a place of instruction for students preparing for their first medical examination.  It was not until 1982 that some 20 students joined the University as the first cohort for a nursing degree.  A new school of Nursing and Midwifery was formed in 1995 by the amalgamation of the NHS College of Nursing and Midwifery with the exiting nursing group in the Faculty of Medicine.  Nursing at the University is now ranked 9th in the world and third in the UK according to the QS World Rankings by Subject 2018.

The Nightingale Building on the Highfield Campus which houses the School of Nursing and Midwifery [MS 1 University Collection Phot/19/352]

Florence’s Nightingale’s achievements in the field of nursing are commemorated on campus by the Nightingale Building which opened in September 2000 to house School of Nursing and Midwifery.